Madrid, July 10, 2003 - The Czech Republic pulled off a 3-1 win against hosts Spain at the FIVB $15 million World League finals here on Thursday to set themselves up to face Brazil in the semifinals on Saturday. Earlier Brazil waltzed through their match with Italy 3-1 and Italy now plays Serbia and Montenegro in the second semifinal encounter.
"This was a very hard game for us both mentally and physically but we gave our maximum," said Czech captain Ivo Dubs.
Spain, running on high octane and spurred on by a bullfighting ring packed with aficionados dominated the early stages, even though they were several hands smaller than the Czechs, the debutants of the 14th edition of this elite annual competition.
The Czechs settled quickly accumulating a 14-8 lead and team stalwarts like Martin Lebl, Michal Rak, captain Ivo Dubs and Petr Zapletal then contrived to drive the score to 16-9. The early question was if the Spanish were outclassed could they down the Czechs with courage, spirit and support from the crowd?
It was Dubs who stilled the euphoria when he drove home the winner to give the first set, rather unceremoniously to the Czech Republic 25-15.
Meanwhile, big Rak was hot, attacking and blocking his way to a three point lead in the second, to which even the charismatic Rafa Pascual had few answers. The problem was simple. The Czechs were playing very, very well.
Then Juan Jose Salvadore and Gustavo Saucido narrowed the gap to 11-13 and the Spanish were reignited. They could keep the gap to three points but at times, with Rak the 205cm mountain on the other side of the net, it opened into a gulf. The Czechs took the set 25-20 when they unleashed an unstoppable shot that captured the fingertips of the Spaniards and careered out of bounds.
Spain hung onto the Czech Republic in the do-or-die third and when Jose Luis Molto equalized at 11-all the rafters rang. He repeated the magic to make it 12-all and Molto the Mighty made it three times lucky to bring Spain to 18-all. One point more and they hit the front and when Pascual climbed skyward and dropped the most delicate of shots into the Czech court to put Spain 2 points ahead, the crowd went wild. Pascual then put away the next to give Spain two set points. The first was fended off but a wild Czech serve put them back in the match at 2-1.
Spain may have gone down in the fourth set to exit the tournament, but they leveled at 22-all and again at 23-all before they went down ablaze with fighting spirit that endeared them to their home crowd and will make them remembered as a worthy finalist in the 14th edition. The World League finals now resumes Saturday after the rest day on Friday.